What does General Kevin P. Chilton, the four-star Air Force general, noted astronaut, and this year’s speaker for the Father’s Club Banquet have in common with a typical Malvern student?
The tendency to doze off.
But napping in Study Hall is very different than falling asleep while sitting over high-powered explosives.
“Every one of my launches, when I was strapped in the shuttle, I fell asleep,” said General Chilton. “I knew I was going somewhere that day. I was hoping it was a low earth orbit, but I knew I was going somewhere. I was ok with either way.”
The fear and thrill of space flight is something that can captivate and attract audiences of all ages. General Chilton is the highest military official to ever fly in space.
He was born in Los Angeles California, and attended St. Bernard High School, according to NASA’s website.
During his childhood, Chilton recognized that his parents and teachers were his biggest role models.
“From my parents, I learned how to treat people,” said Chilton. “My father was always one to say whatever job you are given, you should be the best at it, and you should leave your role better than it was when you took it over.”
He said his parents taught him to live by the golden rule of treating others the way you’d like to be treated.
“I’ve adopted their leadership styles as well,” Chilton continued. “If I’m going to leave places better than I started, then I expect the people that I lead to do the same. At the same time, I’m going to treat them the way I’d wanted to be treated if I was working for them.”
After high school, General Chilton attended the Air Force Academy. He did this because he originally wanted to be an airline pilot.
He almost majored in geography, but eventually decided on engineering. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, he earned his masters in engineering from Columbia University on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
After earning his masters in 1977, he served as a combat ready pilot and flight instructor and eventually became an officer. By 1987, he was assigned to be an astronaut candidate with NASA, according to NASA’s website.
General Chilton went on to spend 704 hours in space, or roughly one month, over three trips in 1992, 1994, and 1996. He began as a pilot, but worked his way up to a commander by his final mission.
He was aware of the dangers of space travel. “You knew what the risks were, and you accepted those risks. No one held a gun to our back to march out to the launchpad. We skipped out there. We were excited to go,” he said.
Despite the danger of space travel, General Chilton kept to his faith. “It wasn’t that you feared death if you’re squared away with God, which I always was,” he said.
For Chilton, the hardest part didn’t come from the fear of sitting over “four million pounds of high explosives,” but rather, the fear of not being there for his kids.
“Seven days before launch, you had to say goodbye to your kids. That was always really hard for me, really hard. I hated that,” he said. “I would look at my children, and I would see they need a dad. That’s my job. That’s my most important job. That’s what scared me the most.”
After leaving NASA, Chilton worked for the Department of Defense and became the commander of the United States Strategic Command in 2007, according to United State’s Department of Defense’s website. While in that position he was in charge of all cyberspace security. The Director of the NSA and other organizations reported to him.
Chilton was later elected by his fellow astronauts into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
As for the future of space travel, Chilton believes that the only way humans will get to Mars is if a leader steps up and says that people need to get to Mars. He said it should be the same way President John F. Kennedy declared the United States would get to the moon before the end of the 1960’s.
Today General Chilton enjoys skiing, cycling, horseback riding, and traveling and being with his wife, who is also a general in the Air Force. He also has four children.
After 34 year career with the Air Force, what does General Chilton consider to be his greatest accomplishment?
“It’s a work in progress, and that’s being a good dad, being a good husband. It’s hard to be proud of the other stuff because I know I owe that to so many other people.”